Report of Nancy M. Cline, Roy E. Larsen Librarian
During a time period marked by significant milestones, Houghton Library focused much effort on planning five major events over the course of 2008–2009. These events brought scholars from near and far to Harvard to experience firsthand the richness and depth of its collections.
The first of these major events took place in October 2008, when noted filmmaker Ken Burns gave a lecture, "Distance in His Eyes," and showed clips from his new documentary, The National Parks: America's Best Idea, in celebration of the 150th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt's birth. An avid outdoorsman, hunter, and naturalist, Roosevelt's commitment to conservationism led him to play a significant role in the early development of America's national parks, doubling the number from five to ten during his presidency and setting the stage for future additions. Burns's film explores the history of America's parks from the mid-1800s onward. His talk marked the opening of a special exhibition mounted to honor the Roosevelt sesquicentennial, Through the Camera Lens: Theodore Roosevelt and the Art of Photography. Drawing on Harvard's Theodore Roosevelt Collection, a world-renowned resource for the study of the life and times of the 26th president, the exhibition explored Roosevelt from several perspectives, including his mastery of the media and his love of the outdoors.
In 2009, Houghton celebrated another presidential milestone—the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln's birth. The celebration began in February with the exhibition Harvard's Lincoln, which included a broad array of items from Houghton's collections, from letters, books, and manuscripts to sculpture and physical objects believed to be associated with Lincoln, including an axe he purportedly sold while working as a store clerk, and a ticket stub from Ford's Theatre on the night of his assassination. In April a two-day symposium, Abraham Lincoln at 200: New Perspectives on his Life and Legacy, was held featuring dozens of historians and Lincoln scholars, among them Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust and noted author Doris Kearns Goodwin. Symposium topics studied a number of aspects of Lincoln's career, such as his views on race and slavery, his role as Commander-in-Chief, his use of the press to shape public opinion, his relationship with Congress and his influence on the legislative process, and his role as a politician and as a party leader.
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the groundbreaking Ballets Russes, the Harvard Theatre Collection (HTC), in cooperation with Harvard's Office for the Arts and the Harvard Dance Program, sponsored a symposium entitled Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, 1909–1929: Twenty Years That Changed the World of Art. Established by Diaghilev in 1909, the Ballets Russes quickly grew into an international phenomenon, performing in Paris, Monte Carlo, and London. Though his original aim was to promote Russian culture, Serge Diaghilev's productions are today recognized as having fundamentally altered the notion of what a ballet could be through a unique combination of artists, writers, choreographers, and dancers. The three-day centennial symposium held in April included lectures and panel discussions on subjects ranging from androgyny in the Ballets Russes to Stravinsky's involvement with the company to Diaghilev's early life. The accompanying HTC exhibition included hundreds of items: original works of art, ballet manuscripts, original scores, portraits of dancers, original costumes, letters from Diaghilev, several large posters advertising performances, and even a rare manuscript detailing the choreography for the ballet The Sleeping Princess.
Marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, dozens of scholars from across the country and overseas gathered at Houghton Library for the symposium "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: A Sesquicentennial Assessment." During the symposium, screenings were held of several Sherlock Holmes films, presented by the Harvard Film Archive. The three-day event was complemented by an exhibition of Doyle material, "Ever Westward": Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and American Culture, which included rare books, manuscripts, and ephemera from Houghton's collections, including the H.W. Bell/Speckled Band of Boston Collection and the Baker Street Irregulars archive, which had been recently given to the library.
Culminating the year of celebrations, the three-day event "Johnson at 300: A Houghton Library Symposium" drew more than a hundred Johnsonians from all over the world and was the largest scholarly celebration of Samuel Johnson in the United States. The event was complemented by the exhibition A Monument More Durable Than Brass, featuring Johnson's earliest surviving letter, his earliest diaries (kept in Latin), rare manuscript fragments from the original Dictionary, and even the great man's silver teapot. The items on display were drawn from Houghton's Donald and Mary Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson, one of the world's most important collections of 18th-century literature, comprising thousands of letters, manuscripts, first editions, portraits, and other items. Following the bequest of the collection, the library was able to fully catalog the entire collection, making these extraordinary resources readily accessible to scholars.
Each event's accompanying exhibition allowed library users unable to attend the symposia and lectures the opportunity to experience the richness of these collections. Published catalogs accompanied the Lincoln and Doyle exhibitions, with Harvard's Lincoln issued as a double issue of the Harvard Library Bulletin (Fall–Winter 2008). In addition to these exhibition catalogs, two other publications highlighting Houghton collections were issued during the past year: Audubon: Early Drawings and The Theatrical World of Angus McBean.
In addition to Houghton Library's major symposia, other lectures, publications, and significant activities in HCL this past year included:
FY 2009 began with HCL Technical Services engaged in the first year of a two-year strategic process to incorporate changes in workflows, increase use of technology, and better leverage staff skills and expertise, with the ultimate mission of improving access to library content or creation of metadata to better serve today's faculty and students.